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"Seven or I'm leaving."
"Hmph! Fine. Seven-fifty, then. But that's my final offer!"
Jim sighed. Technically speaking, $7.50 was a bit cheap for a good, if slightly used, paintbrush. However, he was a little tight for money at the moment, and the more money he could save, the better. It never occurred to him, however, that he could simply not buy the paintbrush.
He had spotted it several minutes ago, sitting awkwardly among a bunch of pens, pencils, and other artsy materials. The paintbrush, long and thin, had caught him like a fish, then reeled him in. Its wood was of a beige color, with two thin bands of red near the opposite ends. He wasn't entirely sure what it was about it that captivated him; after all, he had several paintbrushes back at his apartment that were more colorful and were certainly in better condition.
Jim sighed again. "Fine. Seven-fifty." He handed the money to the man, who flipped through it, making sure that Jim had given him the right amount. Once he was satisfied, he handed Jim the paintbrush and waved him away so that a lady who was waiting behind Jim could haggle with him about the price of a lamp.
Having purchased the only thing he considered of value at the garage sale, Jim decided to leave. He wove his way between a few tables covered in old books, magazines, hats, coats, and myriad other things that had probably not seen the light of day in years. He considered taking a cab, but his apartment wasn't very far away and he had blown what little budget he allowed himself on the paintbrush.
As he walked, he took the paintbrush out and looked at it curiously. He wondered what had attracted him to it so much. Its colors were faded, its paint peeled, and bits of it were chipped off. Although, observed Jim, its brush is still in fine working order. He decided that it was nothing that a little care couldn't fix.
Half an hour later found Jim unlocking his apartment door. It opened, then shut as he walked in to the two-room apartment. The room which the door opened into was a combination kitchen and studio, with his bedroom connected by a door on one wall. Anyone who was unfamiliar with Jim would have thought that two people lived in the apartment, so different was the studio from the kitchen and bedroom. The kitchen and bedroom were both nearly spotless; everything was meticulously placed and all the furniture and appliances fit together perfectly enough to shame a Chinese puzzle maker.
The studio, on the other hand, was much messier. Canvasses, easels, buckets, palettes, and paintbrushes lay haphazardly across the floor, as if thrown around in a fit of rage. But the studio's apparent messiness was intentional; Jim found it easier to work when he could see all his materials. Often when at a loss, he would look around, and unexpectedly spot a color that would fill the gap in his creativity.
Suddenly itching to try the paintbrush, Jim rushed over to easel and threw a blank canvas onto it. He paused a moment as he realized that he hadn't the slightest idea of what to draw. Then, struck by sudden inspiration, he dipped the paintbrush into a bucket of cream-colored paint, which he used to paint a background with a rectangular blank space in the center. Without pausing for a moment, he washed the paintbrush out and dunked it in some green. He then drew a green door, slightly ajar, into the rectangular gap. He washed the paintbrush once more, then dipped it into some yellow paint. Beyond the door, he drew radiating golden light.
Stepping back to survey his painting, Jim realized that he was rather hungry. He walked over to the kitchen and busied himself making a ham sandwich. Gulping down his snack, Jim turned back to his picture-and stopped dead in his tracks. His drawing had changed. The radiating golden light had turned to pitch-black darkness. And, staring out from the darkness, was a pair of red, gleaming eyes. Jim stepped back, then quickly looked at the expiration date on the ham. When he found it was in two years, he proceeded to check the door and the three windows-one in the kitchen, one in the studio, and one in his bedroom. They were all locked.
Jim, worried and confused, sat down heavily in an armchair. He pulled the paintbrush over to look at it more closely. It appeared the same, from its tip to its faintly red brush, but...
Jim yawned. Glancing at the window, he realized that it was getting dark. "Maybe I should call it a day," he muttered to himself. "Perhaps I'm just too tired to think clearly." Rising from the chair with a grunt, he went off to bed.
A few minutes later, he came back in, threw away the canvas with the changed painting on it, then went back to bed.
Morning found Jim staring at his studio. Part of him was wondering how the new canvas found its way onto his easel. The other part was recoiling from the painting on that canvas.
A screaming face, so tortured it appeared more animal than human, was staring back at him. Its mouth was wailing, and its long, spindly fingers clutched the sides of its face.
But that wasn't the half of it. In addition to the disturbing drawing, his studio had was in even worse shape than usual. Paint was splattered all over the walls, green on red on blue on yellow, all making the kind of ugly colors you think of when you hear someone puke. His canvasses were shredded, his paintbrushes scattered-all except the canvas on the easel, and the paintbrush he had just bought. It sat smugly on top of his artist's chair, orange-brown paint on its brush.
Jim stood dumbly, struggling to take in the mess and the painting and the way the paintbrush was sitting in the middle of it all. He quickly reviewed the facts. All the windows and the door were locked, no one other than him had been in his apartment (that he knew of) recently, he didn't sleepwalk...none of it made any sense. Jim looked again at the face, wailing at him silently, then shifted his gaze to the paintbrush, lying innocently on top of his chair. Then, in one quick darting motion, he thrust open the window, grabbed the paintbrush, and threw it out onto the street. Dusting off his hands, he threw away the picture and went out to hire a cleaner.
He returned two hours later with a maid who promised him that she could get rid of any stains the paint might have left on the walls. He opened the door for her, then halted as he noticed the studio walls. The clean studio walls.
The paintbrush was back, too. It sat triumphantly on his chair, as if daring him to try throwing it out again. And there was a new painting on the canvas; a grassy field, full of flowers, was lain out as far as the eye could see. However, in the distance, what appeared to be a massive bonfire was, upon closer inspection, revealed to be a burning pile of corpses, piled in a sloppy mess and set aflame.
"Excuse me, sir?" inquired the maid.
"Huh?" said Jim, his thoughts interrupted.
"Well, it just seems that since there's no mess for me to clean up, it's rather a waste of my time staying here..."
"Oh, yes, sorry. Go ahead, I'm sure you can find the door," Jim said impatiently, waving her away. She left, rather confused.
Jim slumped down in his armchair, glaring at the paintbrush. He had the oddest feeling that, although it had no eyes, it was somehow matching his gaze.
He stood up again. Something had to be done. If throwing it out the window didn't work, he reasoned, he would have to do something a little less subtle.
Grabbing the paintbrush, he began the long walk to his friend's house.
After five knocks, Albert opened the door. "Oh, hey Jim. Sorry I didn't open the door at once; I had to finish an adjustment." He raised his safety glasses onto his forehead and rubbed his eyes.
"No problem, Al," Jim replied. "Hey, I've got a request."
"Well, you see this paintbrush here?" Jim held up the paintbrush for Al to see.
"Yeah. Looks like it's in bad need of repair," Al said, taking it from Jim. "So you want me to fix it up for you?"
"Not exactly," said Jim. "I want you to destroy it."
Al did a double take. "Did you just ask me to...destroy it?"
Jim nodded. "It's a long story, and maybe I'll tell you sometime, but for now just trust me when I say I'll definitely be better off with that thing gone for good."
Al took a good look at Jim's serious face. "Fine. I won't ask any questions, but just so long as it makes whatever's making you so serious stop. I like you cheerful."
Al beckoned Jim in, handing him a pair of safety glasses even as he donned his own. The carpenter shut the door and walked past a variety of machines, until he finally reached a grinder.
"I use this when I have a piece of wood that has become so mutilated that I can't use it for anything," he explained as he fired it up. A mechanical hum filled the air as the machine whirred to life. Al tossed in the paintbrush and a the machine emitted a rough grinding noise. Jim enjoyed watching the wood chips and strands of the brush fly out the other end.
Satisfied with his success, Jim closed and locked the apartment door. He turned around to find a new painting on the easel, and the paintbrush lying on his artist's chair. He could feel its anger-yes, he knew it was angry-all the way across the room.
The painting was of the grinder. It was larger-than-life, with every detail exaggerated to the point that it looked akin to a giant, man-eating monster. Which was, in fact, what it was doing. Partway in the machine, being ripped to shreds, was a person. The arms were thrown out in a hopeless attempt to get loose, the face uplifted, screaming in agony. And the face...was Jim's.
Horrified, Jim glanced back at the paintbrush. Only it wasn't there anymore. In its place, there was a puddle of blood.
Jim jerked the door, slamming his keys into the lock and turning them hard enough to scrape his hand on them when they would turn no further. He twisted the knob and yanked the door open. Then he ran.
But not fast enough.
Excerpt from a local newspaper the next day:
Artist Found Dead Outside Apartment
Jim Belton, an amateur painter, was found dead outside his apartment at approximately 4:30 a.m. this morning by a neighbor who was walking his dog. According to the police report, it appeared that "...the lower half of his body was missing, almost as if he was shoved in a shredder." It is unknown who committed the murder, although the police are not ruling out suicide, due to a disturbing painting presumably drawn by him depicting himself being shoved in a grinder. If you have any information about this crime...